The opened community. Roots – Continuation of st. Alphonsus’s herritage – Alphonsian Academy.
Father Alfonso Amarante – president and professor of the Alphonsian Academy
Welcome to the Alphonsian Academy. Before we talk about the university itself, which is widely known as a teaching center for moral theology, let me share a story with you for a moment to explain how it was created. Founder of Redemptorist missionaries, St. Alphonsus Liguori was not only a great lawyer, but also became one of the greatest moral theologians of the eighteenth century, so much so that in 1871 he was proclaimed a doctor of the Church, for through his wisdom and his theological thought he finally overcame the heresy of Jansenism.
Immediately after he was declared a Doctor of the Church, Redemptorists began to think about establishing an Institute of Moral Theology. At the Chapter of 1891, it was decided to establish such an institute for the formation of future Redemptorists. A dozen years later, in 1910, a new theological institute was established in Via Merulana in Rome, where the Redemptorist General House is now located. However, after a few years, due to economic problems and the specter of World War I, this idea collapsed, but the dream continued.
After the first attempt in 1910, the Alphonsian Academy was finally established in 1949, thanks to Father General Leonard Buijs, who was a moralist. He brought the best professors of theology to Rome. They were: Fr. Bernard Häring, Fr. Domenico Capone, Fr. Alfons Humber. He gathered teachers of moral theology from various Redemptorist seminaries. In 1949, the Institute of Redemptorist Moral Theology was officially established. It was initially an internal school and was approved in 1953/54 by the Congregation for Religious. But on the eve of the Second Vatican Council, in 1960 to be precise, this internal school of Redemptorist moral theology was elevated to the rank of the Higher Institute of Moral Theology for the whole universal Church and incorporated into the Pontifical Lateran University. What did this act mean? The Church, recognizing the high level of theological teaching of Redemptorists in this Institute, draws it out and raises it to the service of the whole Church. From that moment on, the Alphonsian Academy reports directly to the Congregation for Catholic Education. In this way the dream of the Redemptorists has been fulfilled, their Institute of Moral Theology becomes the heritage of the whole universal Church.
Two years ago, we celebrated the 70th anniversary of the Academy. These were very fruitful years. Our predecessors actively collaborated as experts during the Second Vatican Council. Slightly younger professors have worked and still work in various Vatican commissions. At the same time, the Academy community enjoys the education of over 5,000 students from 5 continents. Of these, about 150 are bishops and two are cardinals. Certainly, as Redemptorists, we should be proud, because the moral theology thought developed by St. Alphonsus de Liguori, dreamed of by many Chapters, today has a new vitality. In fact, the Alphonsian Academy is pursuing moral theology in seeking truth in response to pastoral demands. On this path, 72 years of our history, we have had great figures among teachers and students. We cannot deny that during this time we were viewed with admiration, because studying moral theology at the Alphonsian Academy means, above all, making a clear choice in favor of the Church reaching out to those who wish to serve God’s people.
I would like to invite you to follow a path through the Academy, not in terms of structures, but in terms of the thoughts that live in it. The first person to speak to you will be prof. Martin McKeever – an Irishman who studied moral theology with us, and later became its chairman and lecturer. The second will be prof. Aristide Gnada, a native of Burkina Faso, who developed a special theological thought about the gift. The third professor is from Sri Lanka, Asia. Professor Vimal Tirimanna, who will tell you about the Alphonsian moral tradition and its current vitality today in response to pastoral demands. The last professor to speak to you will be Andrzej Wodka, of Polish origin, who was the chairman and lecturer of biblical studies at the Academy, and now is the chairman of AVEPRO (Vatican Agency for the Quality of Academic Education). He will talk about the great role of conscience in making it possible to live in reciprocity.
Father Martin McKeever CSsR – professor of the Alphonsian Academy
I believe that academic life is a vocation within a vocation. Everyone of us became a priest because we saw priests praying, preaching, and at one point thought: I could live this life, I could be happy as a priest. The same applies to this specific vocation within the priesthood, namely the vocation to the academic life. I was fortunate enough to meet the various Redemptorist professors teaching at the Alphonsian Academy when I myself was a student thirty years ago. And I must admit that the experience of their enthusiasm, their intellectual honesty, their sacrifice, became the basis for me to believe that I could live like this. Thank God it happened.
After my PhD from the Academy and five years of teaching in Ireland, I returned here twenty-three years ago. Life is not easy here, always filled with work. However, I must say that I have always been at peace, very happy and fulfilled. I believe that passion is the secret of academic life. You must have a passion for truth. You can feel this passion while reading, writing, and most of all – teaching. It would be even better to say that it is the students who perceive this passion. When a professor teaches with the passion, it becomes contagious. Students react – there is more discussion between them as well, there is liveliness and the atmosphere becomes very positive.
The last aspect of my academic life is conducting doctoral dissertations. This is an extremely important moment in a student’s life. This is, in a way, the goal of his life. He has to write two hundred, two hundred fifty, three hundred pages, and it is my and my colleagues’ job to direct the preparation of such a publication. I must say that this also provides reasons for great satisfaction. It obviously requires a lot of work, but the experience of accompanying a young priest in this academic life is a source of great satisfaction. Allow me to summarize: if you have such a passion, it could become your life as well.
Father Aristide Gnada CSsR – professor at the Alphonsian Academy
The study of the subject of gift in moral theology is born of a basic intuition facing ethical and anthropological questions. Nowadays, man wants to be convinced through moral argument to the extent that he understands the motives of his actions. Such argumentation may consist in pointing to and explaining the embedding of moral truth in the ontological truth of a person. A moralist theologian should therefore refer to basic human experience, fundamental and universal, in order to find that reality universally recognized as fundamental to human existence, through which it is possible to reach the hearts of all people.
When it comes to basic, fundamental, and universal experience, it must be said that the gift contains all of these characteristics. The human being is actually immersed in the reality of the gift; his existence is based on the truth of the gift and has a structure of receiving-giving exchange. Thus, the moral life appears inseparable from the law of the gift as an expression of human purpose, rights and obligations, and as a response to his natural inclinations: life, fertility and relationality. So it can be concluded that whoever finds himself in full possession of his own faculties and follows the law of gift can lead a good life. The very logic of the gift contains the good that can be done and at the same time eliminates the evil that must be avoided. Hence the proposition of the gift as a principle of moral action and moral theology, which – according to Veritatis Splendor – is a theological reflection on “the good and evil of human acts and the person who performs them.” The gift as the principle of moral action points to the ontological sense of human freedom, which – as John Paul II states in Centesimus Annus No. 38 – “is given to himself by God and therefore must recognize the natural and moral structure with which he has been endowed”.
Moreover, it points directly to the ethical significance of human freedom as a gift faculty which manifests itself in receiving and giving, thus expressing the humanity of a person. As the Second Vatican Council states in Gaudium et spes No. 24, a person “cannot fully find himself if not through a sincere gift of self.” The gift, as a principle of moral theology, therefore requires reflection on the morality of the person as a being-gift created in the image of God; it also requires reflection on the morality of the Christian revelation of God as Absolute Love, infinite and eternal, whose intra-trinitarian creative and redemptive action is that of a gift.
Father Vimal Tirimanna CSsR – professor of the Alphonsian Academy
St. Alphonsus de Liguori was proclaimed the patron saint of Catholic moralists in 1950, i.e. 70 years ago. In other words, the moral theology of Saint Alphonsus is recognized by the Church as a model of Catholic moral theology. As we well know, he marked an intermediate path between the two extremes – that is, between rigorism and laxism. In this way, Alphonsus showed the right path for moral theology to save souls. In today’s world too, we have a reality that is surrounded by these two extremes that existed in the time of Alphonsus. Inside the Catholic Church too, there are rigors and laxists! That is why it is very important to follow this indirect way indicated by the Saint. It is the responsibility of Redemptorists who have dedicated their lives to moral theology, both as teachers and researchers.
Here in Rome, the Alphonsian Academy volunteered to achieve this goal precisely as our Constitutions say. This is our specialty, which means that the Alphonsianum in Rome only exists for this reason. There are numerous Church universities in Rome fully dedicated to the study of moral theology, but only we Alphonsianum Redemptorists are called solely to devote ourselves to promoting moral theology, following the guidance given by our Founder, always in liaison with the Church’s Magisterium. It is not a matter of teaching some moral theology or moral speculative or moral philosophical theology out of the clouds, but it is a matter of promoting a theology that saves the soul, and especially the souls of those who are marginalized in secular and ecclesial society. This means that Alphonsian moral theology is not a deductive or mathematical theology created at a desk, but a moral theology reaching out to people surrounded by various pastoral conditions.
Father Andrzej Wodka, CSsR – professor at the Alphonsian Academy
I express my unity with what has just been said by my fellow professors to present the Academy as a service to the whole world of human conscience and a service to the Church itself. The Church is first and foremost “God’s family on earth” and a companion on the way for every person.
The task of the Academy in this case is to:
1. Preserving the “heritage” of redemptive mercy
Christian life is the living memorial of redemption. For us this is structured also as a theology marked with the gentleness typical of St. Alphonsus Liguori. For St. Alphonsus, man appears as the “dream” of God, more as “paradise” which God wishes to find for himself in the human heart. By serving the Church, we feel obliged to develop the dimension of mercy of St. Alphonsus and propose it again to future generations of people.
2. Developing the “legacy” of the Second Vatican Council
The Council wanted a moral theology that was more filled with the doctrine of Holy Scripture, capable of expressing the importance of the calling of the faithful in Christ and their duty to bear the fruit of love for the life of the world. The moral life, then, is not about being “enslaved,” with consciences oppressed by external norms, but about the supreme call to be and live as sons and daughters in Christ.
3. Helping the Church community to convert
For us, these are some exits to the periphery of the human world:
• missionary, to offer the joy of the Gospel;
• therapeutic, to be like a field hospital that offers balm of mercy to human wounds;
• ecological, in which creation undertakes the task of revealing God’s presence hidden behind all things connected with each other through mutual service to life.
Conscience can never be regarded as an ordinary organ, almost like a mechanism that applies ethical principles without any flexibility to the circumstances of life. Rather, conscience is the deep intimacy of the person that opens up as a “space for dialogue”. It is a sanctuary in which the human person, in trusting dialogue with his Creator, finds himself within his “project of love” and accepts – as we have said – his supreme call: to be a new creation in Christ, in freedom and in fidelity. Hence, Christian obedience to the law is lived as union with the law of Christ and with the law of the Spirit. These are “personal rights”, not codes! Therefore, there is a need for discernment: the constant search – often at the cost of suffering – for the true good of the person in circumstances not only unpredictable, but precisely so countless and complex that they can often seem contradictory.
Here the Alphonsian Academy always shows better the Christian axiology. It is a world of values that God offers us to live in love. However, without removing the fragility of creation and without blaming it: it is a space of freedom that plays out in limitation as well as wounds that squeeze tears.
In this regard, the Academy is called to promote the best remedies for the evil that oppresses humanity. The Academy does this today in two particular ways:
• uniting with every effort of humanity through a network of reciprocity of conscience, that is, referring to the best discoveries of human sciences and to the most effective proposals aimed at the solidary development of our planet (I am talking here about inter-disciplinary and trans-disciplinary);
• accepting the new calls of humanity. Pope Francis singled out some of the most urgent ones. One of these calls, somewhat surprising, is found in the Apostolic Constitution Veritatis Gaudium, in which the Pope writes: “theology must also deal with conflicts: not only with those we experience in the Church, but also with those that concern the whole world. It is about “accepting the conflict, resolving it and turning it into a link of a new process” by acquiring “a style of creating history, a living environment in which conflicts, tensions and differences can create a multiple unity that gives rise to new life” (VG 4).
It is here that the Alphonsian Academy recovers, as something positive, the dimension of sensitivity: it is about following Christ in his ability to give himself as a gift, to allow himself to be broken like bread, to be available to wounds, if necessary, to regain loved ones and reconcile everyone. So: “field hospital”? Yes. Being able to “get your hands dirty” with street mud? Yes. But in order to accompany – to receive, to hear-heal, to unite everyone in the happiness of God’s plan and in His Home, which we are all. All this in order to offer the world the joy of the Gospel and the abundance of the happy life promised by Jesus.
Father Alfonso Amarante CSsR – chairman and professor of the Alphonsian Academy
One last word: thanks to all those who preceded us and those who share this stretch of the road with us today. A word of thanks to the whole Congregation of Redemptorist missionaries who believe in this formation structure by investing in it human and material structures, and above all, I thank all the bishops around the world, all the superiors general and seminary rectors who constantly send their students to the Alphonsian Academy because they know that the formation we propose is of a high standard, that we offer, above all, a formation that is not abstract, but that comes from listening to and experiencing the People of God and in fidelity to the Church’s Magisterium, and tries to respond to our times. Thank you for your attention, and now I invite you to the Academy.
Authors: Fr. Alfonso Amarante CSsR, Fr. Martin McKeever CSsR, Fr. Aristide Gnada CSsR, Fr. Vimal Tirimanna CSsR, Fr. Andrzej Wodka CSsR